Weekly Photo Challenge: It’s All In Your Head

Brain On Display

This week’s challenge is all about things you admire, so I decided on something a little less..conventional. Do not adjust your set; that is a real human brain, preserved in epoxy and currently on display at the Exploratorium. Take step back and consider all that a human brain does. Controlling your body’s functions, from the senses and sleep to memories and sheer, raw emotion. Keeping you breathing and balanced. Reading this sentence and processing the little squiggles into letters and words, and thus their meaning. A complex organic machine connected via trillions of synapses. For all the dangers out there, it’s allowed us to become the dominant species on the planet. We survive, thrive, create, accomplish, and it’s all because these little clumps of matter are developed just enough to make it happen. Yeah, it’s worth admiration. A larger version is viewable here.

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RIP, Monty Oum

Today, it was announced that Monty Oum passed away. For those unfamiliar with his work, he was the mind behind web animation series such as Haloid, Dead Fantasy, Red vs Blue, and RWBY. He wasn’t just some random YouTube personality; in an Internet full of creative people struggling to be heard, he was one of the few who really showed what could be done with hard work, dedication, and ideas. He set an example that others should strive for. I’m not going to pretend that I knew him, but I understood and agreed with his world view. His work was awesome and inspiring. I wish I had some funny story about meeting him at a convention, or that I could’ve had the chance to collaborate with him on a project. But I don’t.

And now I never will.

What I can do, however, is follow the Rooster Teeth crew’s advice and do something creative. I’ve been a fan of RWBY since its debut (think Harry Potter meets Final Fantasy by way of Wuxia) , and I had originally intended to do a review log of every episode as a lead-in to the Season 3 premiere in July. But now, I think I’ll move it up in my schedule. February is already going to be a busy in terms of gaming and reading, but I’m sure I can fit the reviews somewhere in there. In the meantime, I’ll just end this with an old quote from Monty himself: “Never let anyone tell you that something is impossible.”

Godspeed.

Daily Prompt: Literature And Caffeine

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about teachers. Specifically, the ones who have had a significant impact – good or bad – on your life. This one’s actually kind of tricky; I was on decent terms with all of my instructors, but few of them ever stood out. I’ve always been an overachiever in academic settings – yeah, I was that kid – so teachers focused more on helping the struggling students. I got the (quite wrongful!) impression early on that they didn’t really care about what they were teaching, and were only there for temp work or couldn’t find employment at better schools. Just show up for class, finish the assignment, get the A, and move on. Nothing personal or mind-blowing.

That all changed when I transferred to a university for my upper division coursework. In my first semester, I had a class on Renaissance Literature. I was expecting the instructor to be an bland, cranky, grandmotherly type just like nearly every English teacher I’d had before. This professor, however, was full of energy, enthusiasm, and cracked tons of jokes throughout the lecture. She was so intense and ridiculously over-the-top, it was infectious. I later found out that she had a venti triple-shot Starbucks concoction before showing up every morning. The caffeine made her the life of the party, and it gave a serious boost to her presentation. Some students don’t like that kind of loopy personality (I certainly would’ve tired of it under different circumstances), but no one could deny its effectiveness. The only time it backfired is when she misread the syllabus and assigned the entire Book of the Courtier to be finished in a single overnight reading. It was insane, but we got it done. As an apology, she dropped the final exam from the course. Coincidentally, that extensive reading helped inspire my current world view.

Woe to anyone who underestimated her, though. There was a good reason she was in charge of the department’s graduate program. As goofy as she was in lecturing, she was absolutely ruthless when it came to grading, structuring, and editing. Not doing an assignment in perfect MLA Format was an insta-fail. Don’t craft an argument well enough? Be ready to get called out on it. I pride myself on my writing, but I wouldn’t be nearly as good without her turning my work into a jumble of red marks and annotations. Some of my finest papers were written in her classes. She challenged me to improve, something no other teacher even tried. This is on top of her bringing in extra books, movies, plays, and artifacts she’d collected over the years. She cared enough about what she taught to make it interesting, and spent plenty of one-on-one time with each of her students. She wanted us to be at our best, and nothing less.

Needless to say, that Renaissance Literature class wasn’t the last I saw of her. I ended up taking her courses in Shakespeare, Milton, 19th Century British Literature, and Critical Writing On Drama. I improved with each passing course, eventually becoming one her top students. She gave me her personal copy of the Bedford Companion to Shakespeare, as well as a film version of Hamlet. It eventually culminated on my graduation, as she was the one who shook my hand and nodded as I crossed the stage. That was such a long time ago, but I can remember it so clearly. I miss those strange but oh-so educational times. Maybe someday I’ll get a chance to thank her for what she did…maybe with a Starbucks gift card.

Taking Another Proverbial First Step

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt was to rewrite your very first post, armed with a year’s worth of blogging experience. For reference, here’s the original. Hmmm, should be interesting…

In retrospect, I can totally believe I spent years without a personal blog. It wasn’t so much an oversight as it was a method of avoidance. Writing is second nature to me, but social interaction – even via the internet – certainly isn’t. As an introvert who leads often leads a life of guarded solitude, baring my soul and personal views to complete strangers is quite difficult. I’m still working on it.

A polymath is a person whose expertise spans several and varied subjects. It is something that I aspire to be, and I named the blog Polymathically as a reflection of that ambition. I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’ve reached the lofty heights of Galileo or da Vinci, but I believe it’s something to strive for. I believe that cultivating one’s mind, skills, and interests is absolutely necessary for living fully. I was inspired by Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier and the similarities between polymathic traits and the concept of sprezzatura. It’s the reason why the phrase “Renaissance Man” and polymathy are, despite technical differences, essentially synonymous in popular culture.

Upon further reflection, I’ve also been heavily influenced by Nietzsche. Most people associate him with the idea that life is inherently pointless, and therefore not worth living. Anyone who’s actually read his work will tell you otherwise; life is indeed pointless, but that doesn’t prevent individuals from determining how they live it. We’re all mortal and stuck here together, so why not make this situation as awesome as we can? Don’t know about you, but that’s an idea I can get behind. The same goes for the Übermensch, a concept in which a person can reject society’s values and morals and create their own. It’s slippery, potentially dangerous slope (it was certainly co-opted in the worst ways in the 20th Century), but I believe that it’s a goal to which anyone can – and should – aspire.

Especially you.

Think about it. In our society, there’s a pervasive belief that someone can only be interested in subjects based solely on his or her personality, aptitude, gender, sexuality, political leanings, potential employment, etc. The implications aren’t pretty, and we’re bombarded with such expectations on a daily basis. But if you take a step back, you’ll realize how little of that actually matters. Will being left or right-brained really affect what you’re passionate about? Why should a person’s sex stir up so many taboos and double standards? Don’t limit yourself to others’ categories. You should figure it out yourself, the good old-fashioned way. Try something new, even if you fail miserably at first. Read a book. Learn another language or how to play an instrument. Climb mountains. Travel somewhere. Experience another culture. Ask questions. Do something, anything to push yourself just a little bit further. You’ll be surprised at what you’re capable of.

…Just keep it keep it sane and legal. Common sense is a wonderful thing.

I’ve applied this ideal to my own life. My curiosity and love of exploration are among my core traits. If something catches my eye, I will learn everything I can about it. The origin, functionality, significance, and everything else. The subject doesn’t matter. As a result, this blog is an eclectic blend of literature, photography, travel, science, film, video games, anime, music, and countless others. I regularly read about the astronomy, physics, biology, geology, mythology, history, psychology, and critical theory. I also love traveling, so expect plenty of excellent (and judging by the readership, spotlight-stealing) shots taken throughout my travels. My goal isn’t just to satisfy my own wonder, but to inspire yours.

Stay curious, folks.

Death And Life In The Family

Hey, folks. You might have noticed I’ve been incommunicado for part of this week. I wish I could say that I was on some wonderfully epic adventure, but my near-600 mile road trip down to Bakersfield was for something much more personal. If you were following my blog a couple of months back, you’ll probably recall a post I wrote about my grandmother. Just before the end of January, the inevitable happened; her body could no longer keep up with her iron will and spirit. She died just as we all thought she would: tending to that rose bush in front of the house. She had just finished watering and pruning it, when a neighbor saw her suddenly lay down. My relatives and emergency responders did everything they could, but it was over far too quickly. And that’s the best anyone could hope for. Aside from dying in your sleep, a fast, peaceful death is preferable to an agonizingly dragged-out hospital drama. While I’m sad she’s gone, I’m actually happy, too; her injuries in 2013 made daily life incredibly painful, and she must have despised being so limited. It’s only fitting that she died doing the one of her greatest passions.

She died almost exactly 19 years after my grandfather, and they were buried next to each other. I had the honor of being one of her eight pallbearers. It’s an tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, though not all coffins are covered with cloth anymore. I won’t go into details about the funeral out of respect for my family; it’s excruciating to see the important people in your life emotionally broken. What I will say is that my grandmother earned the love and respect of every person she ever met. I heard so many stories about her life in the last week. How she met my grandfather – a valedictorian with hopes of becoming a lawyer – in high school. How they in their mid-20s survived the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II. How they once owned a coconut plantation. How she had a dozen kids, and became a master seamstress just to make ends meet. How the family suffered through floods and famine, starving and barely scraping by with nothing. How she sacrificed so much to keep everyone alive and well. How she taught her children how to kill and butcher a chicken the old fashioned way, to garden, to cook, to sew, to tell time by looking at the sun, to be disciplined, to be appreciate what little they had. How my grandparents took in stray kids and helped them survive to become pillars of their communities today. How much she loved to travel, and how she could be up and walking miles before sunrise. How the family came to the States in the 70s, resulting in multiple real-life American success stories. How her willpower was the stuff of legends.

To quote my cousin: “It’s a good thing Grandma died before the zombie apocalypse, because you know she’d have slaughtered every single one of us.”

Judging from what I’ve seen, that’s probably not an exaggeration.

I spent a lot of time with my extended family. I don’t get to see them very often – some of which I haven’t really visited with in 19 years – so it was very good to catch up. Religion is a huge part of our parents’ lives – it’s the reason they came to America – but it’s only one aspect of ours. I may be considered strange and rebellious by the older generations, but I discovered that all of us grandkids are far less straitlaced than we look. In a good way. I’m relieved to know that introversion, sarcasm, and geekery run in the family. My cousins are programmers, civil engineers, chefs, bakers, entrepreneurs, cosplayers, video game geeks, fashionistas, teachers, bankers, athletes, aspiring scientists, and so much more. Some like to go barhopping, while others prefer Disneyland, Comic-Con, and Austin City Limits. Others love Magic: The Gathering, Creepypasta, and Vocaloid. One of my cousins vowed to get all the kids together and throw me a Dirty Thirty birthday in Vegas this October. I haven’t decided if I’ll take them up on it yet.

Thank you for everything you’ve done, Grandma. Not just for all you’ve taught me in life, but for helping me become closer to my family even in death. I’ll miss you.